We all know that fishermen have to endure stormy seas, inclement weather, stinky fish and slippery decks. What many landlubbers don’t know is that one of the most common injuries for commercial fishermen is carpal tunnel syndrome.
Why fisherman are prone to carpal tunnel
Carpal tunnel syndrome, sometimes referred to medically as median nerve compression, is caused by constant, daily pressure on your median nerve. What begins as a benign tingling escalates to weakness, numbness and a pain that can wake you up at night. This can also lead to a loss of function in the wrist and hand.
Commercial fishermen can develop carpal tunnel syndrome because the job requires them to repeatedly grab and throw the nets, or repeat the same motion when processing the catch. Overuse and repetitive motions are what typically cause carpal tunnel.
The danger of undiagnosed or uncorrected carpal tunnel is that fishermen rely on their hands, they need to have feeling in their hands and strength in their hands to stay safe on the ship. If you cannot grip something (such as a knife or a net) or hold onto something while on deck, you could very well end up in the water, or worse.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome
Symptoms include burning, tingling and numbness of the fingers. Pain may shoot up or down the arm or be felt in the top muscles of the forearm, in the wrist or in the elbow. Some patients report pain in the top of the shoulder, in the armpit or under the shoulder blade. Undiagnosed and untreated carpal tunnel is serious because it can lead to permanent disability.
Fortunately, carpal tunnel, like other injuries suffered while working at sea, is covered under the federal Jones Act. The Act includes benefits such as medical bill coverage, compensation for lost wages, surgery, therapies, and in some cases compensation for the pain and suffering of the fisherman. Carpal tunnel will not go away on its own. It is always best to be seen by a medical provider who can accurately diagnose and treat this syndrome.